San Francisco must back CPMC hospital plan to be quake-ready 

The clock is ticking until a major earthquake strikes on one of the faults that transect the Bay Area, and San Francisco is woefully unprepared for the big one in a major department — seismically safe hospitals.

One giant step toward preparedness would be a handful of new hospitals that are part of the California Pacific Medical Center project, a large-scale development that deserves the immediate backing and approval of San Francisco officials.

The reasons to build new seismically safe hospitals here and across the Bay Area are numerous, and include a state law. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, a temblor that resulted in about $3 billion in damage to hospitals, state legislation mandated the retrofit or replacement of hospitals that were considered at risk of collapse or likely to cause significant loss of life during a sizable quake. The law requires not just that the buildings survive a large earthquake, but that the hospitals that occupy them must be able to function post-temblor as well.

Although there are several hospital building projects currently under way in San Francisco, including construction of the new San Francisco General Hospital, there is only one acute medical facility that currently meets the new state mandate for seismic safety -- the Kaiser facility on Geary Boulevard.

On an average day in San Francisco, roughly 1,500 patients occupy hospital beds in The City. The hospital construction projects currently under way will add about 600 acute-care beds that meet the state codes. The projects proposed by CPMC would add about 600 more beds. Even then, The City would still be short of acute-care beds for just its average daily needs, let alone the greater number of patients likely to flood area hospitals with injuries after a major quake.

The heart of the CPMC project is two new hospitals and a major renovation. The new hospitals are a rebuilt St. Luke’s in the Mission district and the new Cathedral Hill hospital at Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue. The Davies Campus will be renovated.

The process of approving these projects has dragged on for years, and the current proposal, which addresses community concerns including traffic, transit and housing impacts, is nothing to scoff at. Some in the community may say the money from CPMC is insufficient, but the deal negotiated by Mayor Ed Lee is fair and compensates for the impact of the projects, and then some.

A portion of the controversy about the new Cathedral Hill hospital has revolved around the transit and traffic impacts around Geary  Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue — two thoroughfares already clogged with private vehicles and buses. But the project, which will add traffic to the area, will do more than enough to offset the impacts. In addition to the $11 million CPMC is paying in transit fees for the project, an impact fee all large projects pay, it is also offering up an additional $5 million for Bus Rapid Transit stations for the future Muni lines that will speed up the transit along the two corridors.

As for cars, the Cathedral Hill project will offer off-street lanes for hospital pickup and drop-off, and a portion of the fee for parking in the garage there will go back to help fund Muni service in the future.

The final environmental impact report goes before the Planning Commission on Thursday, the first step of an approval process that also includes a vote by the Board of Supervisors. The entire project was signed off on two years ago by the Health Commission, and negotiations with the community have dragged on since then. Now, nearly 100 groups have signed on to support this important shovel-ready project, and political wrangling should not mire it further.

The City could continue to ask for more money from CPMC, but the group has already ponied up enough in offset costs. The true value in the project is that we will have hospitals that are able to function after a major earthquake. That type of readiness is priceless.

Correction: This article was corrected on April 26, 2012. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there is not an acute care facility that is considered seismically safe under the state guidelines. The Kaiser Permanente on Geary Boulevard, which includes an acute care facility, does meet the state guidelines for seismic safety.

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